Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Before the week is out, I will have participated in staff orientations at six different programs in the last month. I’ve presented content (on differentiation, on working with parents), participated in ice-breaking activities, oriented staff to new responsibilities, and responded to questions about programs that haven’t yet been fleshed out. I’ve also participated in work sessions with teachers working to articulate the "big ideas" in the materials they'll be teaching this year. I've brainstormed with colleagues who are in new settings this year. I’ve gone to Burlington, VT for CAJE; New Haven, CT for a family wedding; and consulted via phone with a wonderful colleague from Michigan, who has inspired me to push myself in new directions. I’ve worked intensely with a couple of communities in the midst of unanticipated transitions. And I’ve scrambled to help implement two new programs regionally – both directed at building our next generation of religious school teachers. With all due respect to Nat “King” Cole, those “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” WEREN’T.

What I’ve come away with is a deeper sense of appreciation for the commitment of the men and women who choose to spend a chunk of their discretionary time teaching Hebrew, holidays, prayers, values, history, peoplehood, CONNECTION to the youngsters in our communities.

For the most part, our teachers are “avocational” – that means teaching is not their main vocation. They come to us for orientation and planning at the end of the work day. Some cut their family vacations short or arrive back at their colleges early. They come tired and anxious, eager and apprehensive about the coming year. Which students will be part of their classes? What’s different this year from last? How will they structure their time? They come, knowing that the work in which they are about to engage is significant. They know that they need help – in content areas, organization, confidence, working with certain types of students and/or parents. Some are confident in their knowledge level; others see only how little they know. They know that the time is too short, that the task is too great: “You are not required to complete the work, but you are not free to abandon it.” (Pirke Avot; 2:16)

But the bottom line is that they come… week in and week out, they come.

All our teachers will struggle at some point this coming year. All will try to juggle commitments to home and family, their “real” job, and their religious school classes. Some will be more successful this year than others. How do I define “success?” Success, in my mind, is the ability “to reach and teach.” First comes the connection – and then the student and teacher are available to grapple with content together.

My wish for you – for all of us – is “smooth beginnings, a year of enough challenges to grow and learn (but not so many that we’re overwhelmed!), and a recognition that we can make a difference.”

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